To learn how the Sun Journal has survived and thrived for 175 years, consider Frank L. Dingley, the longest-serving editor the journal has ever had, in any of its incarnations.
Dingley, a recent graduate of Bowdoin College, helped his older brother Nelson in the mad dash needed to write the first issue of the Lewiston Daily Evening Journal as the Civil War escalated in 1861, capturing the spirit of the North’s will to defend the flag. .
For the next 57 years, Frank Dingley served as editor of the Journal, such a prominent presence in Maine that the Los Angeles Sunday Times called him “New England’s philosopher and prophet” several years before his death. in 1918.
Under his leadership, the paper has become one of the country’s most respected and innovative dailies, read by reporters from coast to coast as a model for keeping a local focus while consistently reporting on larger issues. vast.
Edward Page Mitchell, a Journal reporter who later served as editor of the New York Sun, wrote in his memoir that Dingley focused on news from Lewiston, where he worked, and Auburn, where he lived in a attractive brick home on the north side of Court Street, now listed on the National Register of Historic Homes.
“He would brave storms, floods, snowdrifts or fires to get an interview on any subject of contemporary importance. He would happily walk for miles in the mud, if necessary, to capture an insignificant item from a perspective less microscopic than his own,” Mitchell wrote.
“His vehemence in the pursuit of intelligence, great or small, was limitless, his fertility of expression beyond exhaustion,” he said, and all that he found he wrote it with “his marvelously quick pen”.
Dingley’s energy and commitment to current affairs is perhaps nowhere more evident than the story he told exactly 50 years to the day from that first Civil War issue.
After the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, a passenger ship named the Carpathia picked up survivors of the disaster and sailed to New York.
Journalists everywhere were waiting at the docks, a whole slew of them, jostling for the chance to hear for the first time the first-hand stories they could only imagine.
Dingley, 72, also rushed to the big city, perhaps hoping to catch up with the original headline of his Titanic newspaper proclaiming that everyone on board had been saved.
Within hours, he was sitting in a house on West 118th St. talking with Dr. Alice Leader, a physician and former longtime Lewiston resident. She had survived the sinking.
‘I was traveling with a party of four,’ she told Dingley, ‘and was about to retire on Sunday evening when I heard a crash accompanied by a loud banging from the ship. The shock passed in a few moments.I and other passengers headed for the deck to see what was happening.
“The bridge was covered in ice, but it didn’t occur to me that there was any danger. A gentleman standing nearby, apparently guessing our thoughts, said, “There is a danger. The other end, the baggage halls, is flooded.
“It was only a few minutes after the collision. No one seemed the least bit scared. It seemed like fatalism. We all knew we were in danger, but we thought the Titanic was unsinkable. This, in my opinion , was largely responsible for the lack of thrilling scenes of panic.
“Gradually the Titanic settled into the water, slowly listing to port as she sank.”
“As I got on the deck of the boat, I found the crew launching the lifeboats. My friends said to me, ‘Get in the boat.’ I got in. I had good warm clothes but others who were in the flimsy boat weren’t so lucky. Some of the ladies were only wearing their nightgowns and slippers.
“There were seventy-five feet from the deck of the boat in the water, but we got off safely.
“At that time, the water was flooding the lower deck,” she said, adding that it was “a beautiful and austere sight.”
Dingley wrote all this and more in time to get the story to the Journal for its Extra edition that day, which carried the banner title “Tale of Disaster and Miraculous Escape of Lewiston’s Former Wife “.
Moreover, Dingley knew that the Titanic was not the first encounter with drowning Leader had faced.
She nearly drowned in the Androscoggin River in 1896, when Alice and her husband John, also a doctor, were swept away by the current after a ferry accident on their way to a medical call. Fortunately, her husband managed to grab her arm and swim to safety.
Dingley lived and breathed the news. His drive and learning have kept his newspaper constantly at the forefront of technology and always determined to beat the competition and have all the stories worth telling in its pages.
But Dingley was also a patron of the arts, praising the sculptor Franklin Simmons and the painter D. D. Coombs among others, and also had a religious bent which ensured that his journal paid much attention to local churches of all denominations.
His “Saturday Night Talk,” published weekly in the Journal, featured Bible lessons told in what he called “jargon with a bit of a punch.” Harry Andrews, one of the journalists he trained, said Dingley often spoke about “the radioactivity of humor” to memorably get his points across.
Dingley was, at heart, a word guy.
When Edith Labbie wrote about him in 1969 for Journal’s Magazine, she mentioned that Dingley was already well known in Bowdoin for his epigrams. “He was articulate and his mind was a matter of local fame,” she said.
Dingley traveled widely, including trips to the Holy Land and the post-Civil War South. He was once appointed a special envoy by President Benjamin Harrison to study the issue of immigration from Europe, which gave him the chance to tour Europe. Dingley usually wrote letters about everything he saw for Journal readers back home.
“Frank’s whole life was devoted to journalism and literary work,” Andrews said in 1915.
Ralph B. Skinner, another Journal star, wrote in 1942 that “FL”, as the newsroom called Dingley, was a Republican but not a party loyalist, never afraid to take a stand. for progress when the GOP was on the wrong side. of a problem.
Skinner recalled that Dingley fought, for example, against party leaders to help pass an Auburn aqueduct because Dingley believed that providing a safe and cheap source of water to the people was a public necessity. .
“It is the function of an editor,” Dingley once said, “to support evolution, not revolution. If Lincoln had jumped from the slave auction to the Emancipation Proclamation, the federal union would not have been preserved.
“Lincoln is immortal because he embodied the natural law of the political world that to get from one point to another, you must go through all the intermediate steps.”
It is the voice of progress, the same spirit that motivated Dr. Alonzo Garcelon in 1847 to start a journal to undermine the “old fools” who stood in the way of growth in Lewiston.
Shortly before his death in 1918, Dingley expressed his hope that “the Lewiston Journal will never grow old and never become indifferent to its responsibility as a political, social and moral educator”.
Day after day for 175 years, the Sun Journal has been chronicling its community